Elizabeth Weichsel’s Runaway Marriage.—Debut at Covent Garden.—Lord Mount Edgcumbe’s Opinion of her Singing.—Her Rivalry with Mme. Mara.—Mrs. Billington’s Greatness in English Opera.—She sings in Italy in 1794-’99.—Her Great Power on the Italian Stage.—Marriage with Felican.—Reappearance in London in Italian and English Opera.—Sketch of Mme. Mara’s Early Lite.—Her Great Triumphs on the English Stage.—Anecdotes of her Career and her Retirement from England.—Grassini and Napoleon.—The Italian Prima Donna disputes Sovereignty with Mrs. Billington.—Her Qualities as an Artist.—Mrs. Billington’s Retirement from the Stage and Declining Years.
Among the comparatively few great vocalists born in England, the traditions of Mrs. Elizabeth Billington’s singing rank her as by far the greatest. Brought into competition with many brilliant artists from other countries, she held her position unshaken by their rivalry. She came of musical stock. Her father, Charles Weichsel, was Saxon by birth, but spent most of his life as an orchestral player in London; and her mother was a charming vocalist of considerable repute. Born in 1770 in the English capital, she was most carefully trained in music from an early age, and her gifts displayed themselves so manifestly as to give assurance of that brilliant future which made her the admiration of her times. Both she and her brother Charles were regarded as prodigies of youthful talent, the latter having attained some distinction on the violin at the age of six, though he failed in after-years, unlike his brilliant sister, to fulfill his juvenile promise. Elizabeth Weichsel when only eleven composed original pieces for the piano, and at the age of fourteen appeared in concert at Oxford. Her career was so long and eventful that we must hurry over its youthful stages. The young cantatrice at the age of fifteen was sought in marriage by Mr. Thomas Billington, who had been her music-master, and, as her father was bitterly opposed to the connection, the enamored couple eloped, and were married at Lambeth Church with great secrecy.
They soon found themselves at their wits’ end. With no money, and without the established reputation which commands the attention of managers, Mrs. Billington found that in taking a husband she had assumed a fresh responsibility. Finally she secured an engagement at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin, when she appeared in Gluck’s opera of “Orpheus and Eurydice,” with the well-known tenor Tenducci, whose exquisite singing of the air, “Water parted from the Sea,” in the opera of “Artaxerxes,” had chiefly contributed to his celebrity. It was a propos of this that the well-known Irish street-song of the day was composed:
a piper’s son,
And he was in love when he was young;
And all the tunes that he could play
Was ‘Water parted from the Say.’”